National Award Winner “Streetcar” by Errol Laborde, 1st Place Winner, Columns Category
City & Regional Magazine Association 2013
This was the year I had to come to terms with what to do with too many grapefruit. The simple answer, I once thought, was to give them away. That, as I had already learned from the bananas that grew around the perimeter of the backyard, isn’t always so easy.
For all the talk about home gardening, the produce isn’t an easy handoff, especially if there’s the slightest blemish, as there likely is to be for something grown naturally without the benefit of a mad scientist applying genetic augmentation.
Backyard crops determine their own look, and you take what you get.
Hurricane Katrina liberated the small green space in the backyard by knocking down a neighbor’s cypress tree. The tree’s canopy had blocked the sun so that nothing could grow there. Now the space was suddenly blessed with daylight. So, in the months to follow, while still very much in the Katrina recovery mindset, I wanted to plant bushes that would provide sustenance as if to say “damn the flooding, have a fig.”
If there was any man of science with whom my garden plan could be associated, it’s Charles Darwin, who wrote of “survival of the fittest.” I broke all the rules, including not even bothering to read them. Within a limited space I planted two fig trees and various bushes to grow satsumas, kumquats, tangelos, limes and the grapefruit, respectively. There isn’t the proper space between bushes, and except after the initial planting, not much has been done for fertilizing. Neither do the banana trees, which were long there when I bought the property, get any attention, yet they are indestructible. If possible, they should be the inspiration for the others.
There have been some disappointments: The yard has yet to produce a meaningful fig crop. Last year the satsuma bush underwent radical surgery to have a grafted stalk removed. The bush is at best in stable condition.
The kumquats are sweet, but there aren’t many of them. And by my count, the yard has produced one lonely tangelo – made the lonelier since no one is really sure what a tangelo is.
There are two success stories though: the lime bush and the grapefruit. The former produces hundreds of flavorful key limes. Here, too, the problem is what to do with them. Even the most famous use of the citrus, the key lime pie, only requires the shavings from the pulp of maybe two limes; and the wedge on the side of a margarita glass just has one slice. The world would have to become plastered with tequila for the lime supply to reach the demand.
Eating grapefruit is sort of like taking a long walk, everyone knows it’s supposed to be good for you but not everyone feels like doing it, at least not today – maybe tomorrow. I will concede that the traditional method of eating a halved grapefruit gets a bit problematic. Seldom are the slices successfully lifted onto the spoon; more often there’s a miscellaneous squirt targeting the shirt that was to be worn that day.
Yet, my bush in the backyard is a bountiful machine, providing perhaps a couple hundred beautiful yellow grapefruit, many larger than the size of a softball. The pink flesh produces a juice that’s only slightly tart, yet sweet enough to drink plain.
Therein was the answer. I will still gladly give a grapefruit to anyone who wants one, but instead of being a pusher, I’m now a juicer.
That transition wasn’t as easy as I thought. Most commercial juice machines only have an opening for oranges or smaller citrus. Grapefruit-sized juicers are fairly rare, so rare that I couldn’t find one anywhere in the city. Though I tried hard to shop local, this was a search for the Web.
I am going to have to drink a lot of grapefruit juice to justify my investment in the juicer, but so far it’s worth it. It makes a wonderful, slightly fibrous, juice that when served chilled in the morning provides what has to be the healthiest breakfast juice of all. There are no additives, no colorings, no sweeteners – just pure juice, so fresh that the trip from the bush to the kitchen can be measured in seconds.
In my first year as a juice magnate I’ve learned that it is best to make a half-pitcher at a time, rather than a full pitcher, since, because there are no additives, the juice starts to get a little acidity after too many days in captivity.
The simple answer: drink up.
Limes can be made into juice, too, only here there’s more science involved. Only a penitent person would willingly drink straight lime juice, so there’s more balancing off with water to dilute, and more mixing with a sweetener to soften the taste. A grapefruit, by contrast, comes made to order.
None of this opportunity would’ve happened had Hurricane Katrina not knocked down the cypress tree. There is a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. Sometimes it’s better to just experience the moment.